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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

'Being aware is the first step towards gender equality': Excerpts from 'Gender Talk – Big Hero, Size Zero'

With gender issues hitting the news hotspots more and more, there are questions and doubts, and the answers are covered by a smog of stereotype and convention. How do teenagers make sense of all this?

As part of our ongoing pride month series, this week, we’re focusing on sex, gender, attraction and identities. In the first part of this two-part series, we bring to you an extract from our award-winning non-fiction chapter book ‘Gender Talk — Big Hero, Size Zero’ written by Anusha Hariharan and Sowmya Rajendran. 


                                                                           

“The everyday examples and references to popular culture and news makes it a book that youngsters ought to be able to relate to easily… ‘Gender Talk: Big Hero, Size Zero’ is a very important book. It should be made compulsory reading for all teenagers...” — Goodbooks.in 

 



Uncovering truths, untruths, semi-truths and myths using everyday examples as well as references to popular media, this book ‘talks’ directly to teenagers on all aspects of gender, lifting confusions and creating awareness with empathy and in a language they would understand. Alongside is Niveditha Subramaniam’s visual commentary that prods and provokes, even as it makes you laugh!


These exclusive extracts can help young people find some answers,
and raise more questions with better information.


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Not just a boy-girl thing

So, biologically, there are two sexes — male and female, right? Wrong. 

There are also those who are born with a combination of organs that are associated with both female and male bodies. They are referred to as intersex persons. Doctors often surgically modify their bodies so that they contain only female or only male organs, not both at the same time. While this allows them to fit into a more socially acceptable sex category, it is still a controversial issue as it is not clear whether the outcomes of surgical modifications are positive.

Men’s and women’s bodies have characteristics of both sexes to different degrees, depending on the levels of testosterone, progesterone and oestrogen present in them. For intersex people, it isn’t just about having both sets of hormones — they actually have both male and female organs.

There is a growing medical and social consensus that intersex bodies are a perfectly normal form of human biology, even if rare. In nature, there are many species of plants and animals which exhibit this pattern and these are referred to as hermaphrodite organisms. As long as this applies only to plants and animals, no one is uncomfortable. However, when it comes to human beings, it is upsetting not to be able to slot someone in the standard roles. What gender characteristics will the intersex person have? Problem! 


Why does any kind of difference from the majority quickly become a ‘problem’? Should being different from the mainstream make you unequal? Like disability or race? ‘Unusual’ doesn’t mean ‘abnormal’. Just different. 

Sometimes, a person’s gender does not match the sex that was assigned at birth. That is, someone who is born biologically male or female feels very strongly that he or she belongs to another gender, not the one assigned by the sexual organs. This is not simply a question of preference but is much more complex. Such people are known as transgender persons or the third gender or as hijra, aravani, thirunangai, kinnar... 

Once the decision has been taken to make the transition, surgically or emotionally, into another gender, you have to refer to the person by the identity chosen by him/her. This is the story of a transgender person in her own words. She speaks of what it means to be transgendered, with all its battles and victories. 

I joined IIT Bombay in 2007 as a dual degree student. Although I knew I needed (yes, needed) to be a girl, I had decided that ‘too much’ was at stake. The reputation of my parents, their dream of seeing their son graduate from an IIT and continuing the family legacy (my father had done the same in 1985) seemed so valuable that I had decided that I would never let this secret get out. This was partly why I never touched alcohol throughout my five years on campus. But the inner conflict, the constant war going on inside my head, the pressure of being a girl from the inside but a boy from the outside made my life very difficult. Since I had vowed never to touch alcohol, I resorted to eating — and eating heavily. I would get lost in the parantha and chilly chicken from the hostel canteen because it made me forget my plight for a short while. 

While I wasn’t a student in the CSE department, I was inherently a talented programmer, making me the ‘go-to’ person for any assignment that involved coding. But apart from that, since I was dealing with a lot from inside, little things upset me greatly. 

This affected my social interactions and some of my batchmates believed that I was reclusive and that something might be wrong. Years later, when I told them, they were shocked but very supportive. 

The war inside my head became unbearable during December 2011. I had just cracked a job in an IT firm and I loved coding. I should have been on top of the world. But I wasn’t. I was still a girl inside that no one knew. Five years at IITB had greatly changed my priorities. When I had entered the campus, I was just a girl trapped inside a male body trying hard to live up to expectations. But after years of living and interacting with the people here, I knew that I should rather strive to be happy. I knew that I had to make the transition and let people know. 

In this case, the parents were extremely supportive. They convinced friends and neighbours of the need for the sex-reassignment surgery and accepted that their son would become a daughter. In a society like ours it takes a lot of courage to do this. It also goes to show that our own attitudes become a mirror for those around us. Being accepting and understanding is half the battle won. Her own attitude was also positive — she decided to speak openly about her sex change. Clearly, education and family support gave her the strength of mind to deal with the issue and to resolve it. What she says at the end of the blog post is a powerful message: 

You were born different, but by no means are you inferior.
 Never, ever even think that you are inferior to any of those who are in the mainstream. 
After all, being mainstream is too...mainstream. 
Being different is good. Be proud of it.

If gender biases against males and females run deep in society you can imagine the pressures on intersex or transgender people. In 2008, Tamil Nadu became the first Indian State to allot a box marked ‘T’ for ‘transgender’ in the ration cards distributed by the government. And in 2014, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgement on transgender rights. 

Will laws like these instantly remove the prejudice that transgender persons face in society? Probably not. Changing people’s attitudes is not easy. But recognition by the State in itself is progress and it can help create a more equal society in future, if not immediately.  



Can you escape your gender?

Since sex is one of the very first identities of a person and gender goes along with it, gender identity becomes very hard to change or escape. It is defined by the people around you, according to the body you have. You may be able to hide other identities by getting rid of markers — changing the way you speak, dress, behave and so on. If you are a Christian but don’t wish to be identified as one, you may remove the crucifix that you wear around your neck, adopt the markers of other religions (like wearing a hijab or a turban), and at a passing glance escape the identity temporarily. However, most people can be identified immediately by their sex and a gender identity is assigned to them at once. Your body has a solid physical presence and is an intrinsic part of your existence. And so your gender identity is almost always constant, influencing the way you experience life and look at things around you even if you are not always conscious of it. 

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Hot stuff!


I don’t know whom to talk to about this... I dare not tell my friends. If they find out, they’ll surely stop talking to me. I know what names they call people like me. Even I feel sick about the kind of thoughts I have sometimes. But the other day, on TV, there was this programme in which a doctor said there’s nothing wrong if a boy is... if a boy is attracted to another boy. When I watch movies, I feel like looking at the hero more than the heroine. Am I some kind of freak?




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Boy-boy, girl-girl


What if you are attracted to a person of the same sex? You may end up feeling like Praveen — troubled, ashamed, wondering if you’re a ‘freak’. This is probably because same-sex relationships are swept under the carpet in our country, as if they don’t, and shouldn’t, exist. You hardly ever see homosexual relationships being celebrated or even represented in the media. Even if they are, it is mostly in a negative or comic light. 


 


The general belief is that such attractions are ‘unnatural’ and should therefore not be ‘allowed’. The fact is that same-sex encounters have been recorded across species, not just in human beings. How can something which occurs in nature be considered ‘unnatural’? 


Same-sex relationships are also not a result of ‘modernity’. People of different sexualities have always existed, across time and culture. Several ancient texts make references to it. It’s not a disease either. As of 17 May 1990, homosexuality was removed from the WHO’s list of mental illnesseses. The American Psychological Association, too, has declared that both gender identity variation as well as same-sex sexual orientation are perfectly normal. 

Shakespeare was bisexual and he wrote some of his most romantic love sonnets to a young man. Leonardo Da Vinci who painted the ‘Mona Lisa’ was believed to be gay, as was the writer Oscar Wilde. Talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, is lesbian. In India, too, there are many accomplished people who don’t identify as heterosexual but cannot be open about it because it’s a taboo. Can all these people be considered ‘sick’ or unsuitable for society?! 

 

A large part of the resistance to same sex-relationships comes from the fact that most human beings are heterosexual. As in many situations, the views and beliefs of the majority hold true. Had there been as many books and movies celebrating homosexual relationships as heterosexual ones, there would perhaps not have been so much prejudice. Whatever is less visible seems less normal, and because a lot of homosexual people fear the backlash from an intolerant society, they hide their true selves. A vicious circle. 


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Introduce gender, identities and pride to the young people in your life with books, 
order 'Gender Talk — Big Hero, Size Zero' from our website today!
 
The first post in this series featured a heartwarming review of our popular picture book 'Guthi Has Wings'. 
Visit our website to buy the book.

Follow our social media handles for more updates! 





Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Happy Pride Month: Three cheers to diversity, inclusion and love!

This month, along with our dear young readers, parents, educators and patrons, we are celebrating diversity, and honouring pride. We'd like to give a huge shout-out to our authors, illustrators, publishing professionals and friends from the community for sharing their incredible journeys with us!


At Tulika, we believe reading can be an essential starting point to learn and unlearn people’s varied experiences. We bring to you a unique showcase of our books that gently, but boldly talks about diversity, gender identities, family dynamics, oppression, inclusion, acceptance, compassion and kindness across age groups. Happy Pride! 

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“Guthli has Wings is an interesting depiction of a rather sensitive yet immensely significant issue in today’s world gender identity. The book does a commendable job with conveying the gravity of the issue being addressed through a simple plot, which spans over 20 pages” — The Book Review Trust 

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“The book is a beautifully simple tale of a girl who just needs for everyone else to see her as she sees herself… The hope is that this book and the bold and thoughtfully created Guthli will stand tall as a beacon of hope for the trans community — The Wire



Framed by vibrant cut-out illustrations, our highly acclaimed Guthli Has Wings written by the author-illustrator Kanak Shashi delicately explores the process of acceptance that Guthli and her loving family go through. Sensitive illustrations come alive in this thoughtful picture book suitable for children aged six and above. Spreading her wings globally, Guthli will soon be available for our readers in Italian. 




A simple book, with vibrant illustrations, the colours taking you through the many emotions that Guthli, a child, like any child with hopes, has!” reads a moving review in the UAE-based online forum and website Gaysi Family blog. 


In the reviewer Pooja Nair’s words…


"As a bony little kid studying in an Islamic country (the UAE, if you must know), I rarely had stories that spoke to me about me. My barbies were all white, their clothes were glittery (something my parents wouldn’t buy me, let alone let me wear), my friends were talking about boys (yes, even in the 2nd grade), but who could blame us? It’s all we saw everywhere around us. In cartoons, advertisements, movies, accidental pornography- everywhere. And so we all boxed up our brains into the roles we were assigned; the things we could do, the people we love. The hopes for our future too were very much like this, gendered.


Although my sexuality was not something I discovered and understood until my twenties, my gender identity was pretty clear to me as a 7-year-old. I liked many things but didn’t understand why those things were boxed up. For me, it was all one huge box that I could play with —all depending on how I felt on that day of that month of that year. Much like Guthli, in the book that I recently received to review. Guthli is a child who has hopes and dreams of being a fairy, and she doesn’t see frocks as girls’ clothes until her mother tells her that they are. The book provides a lesson to parents about socialisation without even using the word. “It’s just the way things are”, Guthli’s mother says just like a thousand other mothers around the world say to their children. Just like my mother said to me. Every action has a ‘like a boy’ or ‘like a girl’ following it, and 7-year-old me just wanted to be happy and comfortable wearing whatever that day, much like 24-year-old me, now that I think of it.


That is probably why I was so happy to have received this book to review; Guthli has Wings, written by Kanak Shashi. A simple book, with vibrant illustrations, the colours taking you through the many emotions that Guthli, a child, like any child with hopes, has! Even before I read it, I made my mother read it. She, as a school teacher, and a mother who had struggled to understand her child’s sexuality and gender identity, smiled slightly at the end of the book. We didn’t talk about it, but it’s a book I wish I could have given her when I was little and when she was angrier. Perhaps, it would have helped her understand what I could not make her see.


Guthli brought back memories of the first time I told my mother that I didn’t feel completely like a girl, or like a boy either, and asked her for an option beyond the two. My mother, who hadn’t thought the daughter she had prayed for so badly, wouldn’t want to be a daughter anymore.  She was unprepared and dismissive of my plea. My mother now understands, and even though it took so many years, the Guthli in me has the wings that I’ve always wanted."


This piece first appeared on gaysifamily.com under the title  Book Review: ‘Guthli Has Wings’ by Kanak Shashi’. The author is a researcher in Anthropology and Sociology 

at SOAS University of London. Follow them on Twitter at @karmic_dev


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 Introduce pride to the young people in your life with books,
order 'Guthli Has Wings' from our website today! 


 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Parthiban's Dream: A review by Shefali Ganesh

While some books are pacy and thrilling, some are rich, slow and unputdownable. Very few, not only fall in one of these categories but also act as an escape from reality. Historical fiction trumps that category by making even time travel possible! In these strange times, when most of us are overwhelmed by the present, books like Parthiban's Dream will immerse you in the drama, grace and magic of the past... And how delightful to see Shefali Ganesh, a freelance writer, picking up these key ingredients of the book and stringing them together in this succinct review! 

 

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“Father, did you draw these?” asks Prince Vikraman.
“Yes, I did. These last twelve years, night and day, asleep or awake, these are the dreams that I have seen… 
Today, the Cholas are insignificant vassals. Hemmed in by the Cheras, the Pandiyas, and the Pallavas, we have diminished to a fist-sized land. Our ancestors were renowned emperors… To return this glory to the country that I love so much- that is the desire that fills my heart to overflowing. 

This is the dream I see… night and day, asleep and awake...”




In the words of Shefali Ganesh...


I am reading Parthiban’s Dream, an English translation of the Tamil masterpiece by award-winning author Kalki Krishnamurthy (first published in 1934 by @tulikabooks).

The book takes us back to between the 6th and 9th century, when the UNESCO site, Mahabalipuram’s famed Shore Temples are being built. These are times when Tamil Nadu is divided in rule between the Pallavas, Pandyas and the Cholas 
– the three dynasties that set their mark on India’s history. These were times when the Pallavas were reigning in full glory with Emperor Narasimha Varman on the throne. King of the Cholas, Parthiban rules over a small kingdom, a good king to his subjects, but boxed in on all sides by the Pallavas and the Pandyas.

The book is not just about history, but is a racy thriller that starts with King Parthiban who dreams of a most powerful Chola empire. He dies in war with Emperor Narasimha Varman and leaves his son Prince Vikraman the lost heritage of the Cholas and the ancestral sword.

There are plots and sub-plots, many a mystery, some history and characters that come alive in a land that is described as lush green, watered by the River Kaveri. Fast plots and simple narratives brought history to the common man in Kalki’s works.

Parthiban’s Dreams is for the reader (teen upwards) who loves history, culture, fiction but unfortunately can’t read their mother tongue (like yours truly!). I’m hoping my 11-year-old will pick this up soon...

A word on the translator, Nirupama Raghavan 
– a teenager (then) who has done a brilliant job at capturing a tone into simple yet eloquent words.




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Back in October 2019, we found out that our chapter book Parthiban's Dream was chosen as part of the English 'Non-detail' syllabus for students of class eight at a Samskaara Academy in Coimbatore. What a delight! 

Click here to get a copy of this thrilling page-turner for your children or any loved one! 
If you've already read it and have a review, we'd love to feature it here! 
Send them to reachus@tulikabooks.com.